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Prescription Drugs Are Stealing Too Many Brilliant Musicians

September 11, 2018 - - 1 Comments

Prescription Drug Abuse











When Michael Jackson unexpectedly died of a prescription overdose in 2009, the world was shocked. Jackson was in the middle of preparing for a major comeback tour that was selling out all over the world and which was predicted to make the musician over a billion dollars. Unfortunately, addiction to prescription medications robbed Jackson of this chance to recoup some of the debt that he had accrued over the years.

Another shocking case was that of the death of Prince Rogers Nelson, better known to the world as Prince. This virtuoso musician, composer, arranger, producer, and singer was still creating high-quality music up until his untimely death in 2016. After reading that an accidental overdose of prescription medications caused his unexpected demise, it was clear that these types of pills were becoming a severe problem for the music world.

The sad truth is that prescription drug addiction is by no means new to the music world. While Prince and Michael Jackson were the two highest-profile examples of this epidemic, there are plenty of lesser-known stars or up-and-coming musicians who are fighting against the allure of prescription medications. Why is this such a problem and can it be avoided by musicians trying to achieve success?


Prince and Michael Jackson are Cautionary Tales of Prescription Drug Addiction

Two of the most visible and tragic instances of prescription drugs robbing the world of musicians are those of Prince and Michael Jackson. In the 80s, these two were big rivals for pop success, particularly in the R&B and funk worlds. Both were very hard working individuals who pushed themselves to the limits of their endurance.

For example, Prince was known to perform three-hour-plus shows every night on almost every tour. These shows required him to hold a heavy guitar, play, sing, switch to different instruments, dance, and even leap into the air off of his amplifiers. As a result, Prince was often physically devastated by the end of a tour. Even worse, Prince often performed in uncomfortable platform shoes. These shoes caused damage throughout his legs and back that may have triggered his painkiller addiction. 

white capsules with bottle on tableThe same kind of problems plagued Michael Jackson for much of his career. Known for his incredible dance moves and choreography, Jackson was often crippled by pain during many of his performances. These problems became particularly common after a freak fire during the filming of a Pepsi commercial scarred him. On top of this, Jackson was continually going through plastic surgery procedures, all of which required painkillers.

The addictions of these two musicians were especially potent because they both had a lot of resources to spend on them and lived on large, sprawling estates in which they were often isolated from others. Those around them were often either backing musicians or yes-men who would do whatever Jackson or Prince asked them to do. As a result, there wasn’t much chance for these two to get the help they needed to beat their dependency on benzos, opiates, opioids, and other types of painkillers.

These dependencies were also fueled by mental health problems that were likely not diagnosed in either musician. For example, Prince was known to be incredibly shy when off-stage and suffered from anxiety and depression throughout his life. Beyond that, Prince also had a narcissistic streak that could have contributed to his drug use. Even worse, Michael Jackson very likely had body dysmorphic disorder, a disease that causes a person to view themselves as ugly even when they are not. As a result, he was continually either changing his body or using drugs to manage these symptoms.

Beyond that, both musicians were incredibly famous during the 80s, which was a prime era for drug experimentation. As there have been rumors that both used illegal drugs in the past, it wouldn’t be shocking if Jackson and Prince had experimented with illicit substances like heroin, cocaine, or even prescription pills like benzodiazepines. It’s also likely that they used anxiety medications like Xanax to improve their mental health and stability.

While a lot of this is speculation that is likely never to be fully confirmed, the lives of hugely successful pop stars are often fueled by addiction to a multitude of medications. But what about those struggling musicians who are trying to make their way to the top? These unfortunate individuals are just as likely to fight with prescription medications as superstars. In fact, the impact on their lives can be even more devastating and long-lasting.


Musician Addiction is Nothing New, Particularly Prescription Drugs

Musicians are often in a very tough career position, no matter what type of success they have experienced. For example, struggling musicians are often trying to break through to an indifferent market. They may have side jobs that are challenging and low-paying. Trying to split their time between this job, their home life, and writing and performing can be very challenging.

And musicians who have “made it” are under great pressure to continually record, tour, and perform. They need to stay on top of music trends and write great songs that please their fan base. Just as importantly, they need to continually sell albums to make their label happy and to make the little bit of money that labels send their way. That’s why it’s not surprising that so many musicians are anxious and depressed people.

In fact, a Norwegian study has found that musicians around the world are three times as likely to require mental health treatment. The pressures of their career choice also makes them 50 percent more likely to use antidepressant medications like Xanax. And if these musicians cannot get prescriptions for these medications, they may be tempted to buy them illegally and abuse them without a proper usage guideline.

What was particularly troubling about this study was that these types of issues were common with other types of artists. For example, writers, painters, sculptors, and other types of creative individuals were also heavily likely to abuse prescription drugs due to mental health disorders. That said, musicians were the most troublesome abusers of these medicines simply because of their lifestyle.

The influences between these issues seems to lie in the conflicts that creativity causes in a person’s everyday life. For example, musicians attempting to make it often have family and work conflicts that make it hard for them to practice and write songs. Other types of pressure, including audience and fan expectations, made it difficult for them to avoid mental health issues. Some even found that the changes in their lifestyle caused by success created an imbalance in their personal identity that made addiction more common.

But why are prescription drugs so commonly abused by musicians over illicit substances? While the dangers of heroin and methamphetamine use in musicians has long been known and examined, it is becoming clear that many musicians are turning more often to prescription drugs. Let’s examine this phenomenon further by taking a look at a fictitious example of a struggling musician who finally succeeded.


A Prescription Abuse Case Study

Karen was a gifted singer and piano player who also wrote soulful songs that reflected her personal struggles with anxiety, depression, and the loss of loved ones. For years, she was a side player in a multitude of low-level local bands that didn’t achieve much success. While playing music was her passion, she was forced to work a low-paying job to make ends meet.

The lifestyle of the average musician weighed her down and inspired her to drink alcohol to alleviate her depression and to smoke cigarettes to calm her nerves. A friend gave her Xanax to ease her anxiety, and she quickly became addicted to its psychological effects. Soon, she overcame her stage fright thanks to this drug use and became a favorite local singer.

After a further few years of struggle (including an increasing reliance on alcohol and Xanax), she finally gets a major label record and records a debut album. It is a minor success but is big enough to let her concentrate solely on her music. Her record company asks her to tour for a year, which is much harder than she anticipated. Singing the same songs every night wears her out.

To keep going, she starts popping prescription opioids and opiates that relieve the pain in her hands. Playing piano for an hour every night has led to cramps and early symptoms of carpal tunnel syndrome. By now, she is drinking every night and popping painkillers to fall asleep. Other substances, such as methamphetamine and even heroin, have also made their way into her life.

All that touring increased her popularity and made her second album a number one hit. She is now the talk of the town and is being booked on talk shows and goes platinum with her latest record. In theory, Karen should be happier and healthier than ever, as her passion made her a millionaire and a superstar. Unfortunately, addiction has Karen in its grips and is making her life miserable. A series of failed relationships don’t make the situation any better.

Too many musicians to count have gone through a very similar situation and are caught in the iron grip of dependency. Even worse, a growing number of them are turning to a new type of prescription drug, one that might surprise many. This problem has become so widespread that it has spilled beyond the music world and into the general public.


Beta Blockers are Becoming a New Drug of Choice for Many Musicians

One type of drug that has become surprisingly common with musicians is beta blockers. These types of drugs were originally designed to decrease blood pressure in individuals with hypertension. However, this effect also helps to calm anxiety and serious nerves, particularly in those suffering from stage fright. The sweaty palms, nausea, and racing heart common with this problem are managed quickly with the use of beta blockers.

As a result, a growing number of musicians are quietly turning to this type of prescription drug and are even using it as a type of performance-enhancing substance. And while addiction to beta blockers isn’t a physical danger, it can quickly become a psychological issue. In fact, many experts are stating that millennials (including musicians) are now turning to beta blockers as a crutch for serious anxiety problems.

person standing beside white cableWhile there is no shame in needing medication to manage severe anxiety, beta blockers were not designed to serve this purpose. Even worse, they can cause a variety of side effects that can be troublesome for the health of a musician. These include fatigue, clammy hands and feet, weight gain, sleeping troubles, trouble with breathing, diabetes complications, higher cholesterol levels, asthma attacks, and even increased depression.

As a result, the use of beta blockers for performance anxiety as a musician should be avoided as much as possible. While they are not as addictive as painkillers or other types of prescription medications, they do cause complications that are best avoided. Imagine if performers like Michael Jackson or Prince had stacked these types of substances on top of the large number of painkillers that they were already taking.

If they did, they would be following the example of musicians who use prescription medications that were not prescribed for them. In fact, both Jackson and Prince were guilty of using drugs that were initially prescribed to other people. That kind of illicit use just showcases how devastating and powerful prescription drug dependency can be on just about anybody. Even worse, the real tragedy of the situation lies in the fact that treatment is possible for addictive behaviors.


Addiction Treatment Could Save the Lives of Many Musicians

Recovery from addiction isn’t as impossible as it may seem to the average musician. In fact, dual-diagnosis and other types of rehab could help them beat their dependency for good. Dual-diagnosis is a treatment method that concentrates on the co-occurring nature of mental health disorders and addiction. For the creative musician, this connection is likely to make a hard-to-manage situation.

When going through dual-diagnosis in rehab, musicians will experience many different types of therapy. For example, their physical addiction will be managed by withdrawal medications. This treatment ensures that their symptoms are less severe, which makes it easier for them to focus on the second and possibly most important part of therapy.

Dual-diagnosis requires individuals to honestly assess their addiction and the mental health problems that contribute to it. For example, a bipolar musician needs to go through cognitive behavioral therapy to support their recovery and to learn better coping behaviors. They also experience high-quality psychological treatment to understand their issues better.

If Michael Jackson, Prince, or the fictional Karen had gone through this type of rehab, they may have cured their addiction and avoided a lifetime of dependency. Unfortunately, it is too late for them to recover. However, musicians who are currently addicted to prescription medications and who see no light at the end of the tunnel should contact a dual-diagnosis specialist immediately to get the healing help they need.






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